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The Cost of War in Treasure and Lives | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

The Cost of War in Treasure and Lives

As Democrats debate how best to oppose President Bush's escalation of a war that has already squandered $400 billion and too many American and Iraqi lives, one of the Senate's best leaders – Sen. Richard Durbin – gave a speech on the Senate floor about the need to move toward withdrawal. Durbin spoke powerfully about the deceptions, denials and delusions of this Administration as it has sold and fought the war – and, most powerfully, about the cost of the war in treasure and lives. It seems valuable, in a moment of peril, to post the speech in its entirety.

The Iraq Resolution on Military Force
Remarks Delivered on the Floor of the Senate, January 8, 2007

Mr. Durbin: Madam President, it was just a few years ago--some days seem much longer--that we considered a resolution in the Senate to authorize the use of military force in Iraq. We cast thousands of votes. Most members of Congress cannot recall too many of them specifically, unless reminded. But you never forget a vote on a war because you know that, at the end of the day, if you decide to go forward, people will die.

It is your fervent hope that it will be the enemy, of course, but you know, in honesty, that it will be American soldiers and innocent people as well. So a vote on a war is one that Members of Congress--most every one of them--take so seriously. It costs you sleep, as you think about the right thing to do.

I can recall when the vote was cast on this war in Iraq. I sat on the Intelligence Committee for months listening to the testimony and all the evidence that was brought before us, listening behind closed doors to this classified information about the situation in that country, and then emerging from that Intelligence Committee and reading newspapers and watching television, saying the American people are not being told the same thing outside that room that I am being told inside that room. There were serious differences of opinion in this administration about whether there were even weapons of mass destruction.

At one point, we challenged the administration and said: If there are weapons of mass destruction, for goodness' sake, turn over some locations to the international inspectors. Let them find them. Once they discover them, it will confirm our fear, and other countries will join us in this effort against Saddam Hussein. But, no, they wouldn't do it. Although they told us there were hundreds of possible locations, they wouldn't turn over any specific location possibility to the international inspectors.

It raised a question in my mind as to whether they were very certain of any locations. And, if you remember, weapons of mass destruction were the centerpiece of the argument for the invasion of Iraq.

On Christmas Day many years later after that decision was made on the floor of this Senate, we learned that more Americans have now died in Iraq than died on September 11. Less than a week after that disclosure, on New Year's Eve, we marked a mournful milestone in the war in Iraq: the death of the 3,000th U.S. serviceman killed in Iraq.

Today, as I stand before the Senate, the Department of Defense reports that we have lost 3,014 American soldiers in Iraq. The 3,000th death is as tragic as the 1st death, the 300th death, the 1,000th death, but the staggering scope of casualties, the enormous toll this war has taken, must not be allowed to pass unnoticed.

America's service men and women are the bravest and best in the world. I know I say that with some patriotic pride, having been there to sit and have breakfast and lunch with them in Iraq, Afghanistan, and their other assignments. I just can't say enough about their courage and sacrifice, just ordinary, young-looking men and women who do extraordinary things.

This last October, with Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, while sitting for breakfast with a group of about 12 soldiers from Illinois, I went around the table: Where are you from? Downstate. Oh, you are from the suburbs of Chicago. Or, you live in the city. We talked about everything under the Sun. We talked about the Chicago Bears, the Cubs, the White Sox, and how things were going back home.

I asked them how things were going. They said: We had to get up early. We had to form an honor guard at dawn because one of our soldiers was killed in the middle of the night by one of these homemade bombs that takes so many lives.

I asked: How often does that happen?

Well, pretty frequently.

We know it does because we read the press accounts. We think of these young men and women and the challenges they face every single day as they risk their lives for America. We think about the families back home deep in prayer that their soldier is going to return home safely.

We owe them so much. We owe them our prayers and thanks for sure. But those of us in elected office owe them more than that. Part of what we owe them is a plan to bring this war to a close, a plan to bring them home safely, a plan to congratulate them as they return home for what they have given to this country.

Last March, President Bush was asked whether there would come a day when there will be no U.S. forces in Iraq. His answer to that simple question spoke volumes. The President said: That, of course, is an objective, and that will be decided by future Presidents and future Governments of Iraq.

Now we are told that in a few days the President will make a major policy announcement about this war. According to reports he is going to call for an increase, a major escalation of the U.S. troops committed in Iraq. The administration carefully has used the word ``surge'' to suggest this is somehow temporary, but we have to listen carefully when the President makes his announcement to see just how temporary it might be for the 10,000 or 20,000 or more American lives that will be at risk because of this decision.

Sending tens of thousands more troops to Iraq is not a change of course. It is not what our top military experts advise. In fact, they have said just the opposite. It is clearly not what the American people bargained for when they voted just a few months ago for a change in our direction in Iraq. It is literally and tragically more of the same. I think our troops deserve better.

President Bush has always said he will send more troops if the commanders in the field said they needed more. In December, General Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command, testified before the Armed Services Committee. This is what the general said. The President told us he was listening to the generals:

Our troops' posture needs to stay where it is as we move to enhance the capabilities of the Iraq security forces and then we need to assess whether or not we can bring major combat units out of there. .....

General Abizaid went on to say:

The ability to sustain that commitment [of 20,000 additional troops] is simply not something we have right now.

That was a statement made by General Abizaid just a few weeks ago. He is now moving on. He is being replaced. This was the advice of the leader of the Army and the Central Command in the field of battle. General Abizaid continued:

I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the core commander, General Dempsey. We all talked together. And I said, ``In your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq?''

General Abizaid testified:

And they all said no. And the reason is, because we want the Iraqis to do more. It's easy for the Iraqis to rely upon us to do the work. I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future.

Last month, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, the group that was headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and Congressman Lee Hamilton of Indiana, offered a series of recommendations that they say could allow U.S. forces to largely redeploy safely out of Iraq by April 1, 2008. The President has made it clear--although he thanked the commission--that he doesn't share their feelings. He also apparently does not share the views of the Commission that the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.

This war began with deception--a deception of the American people about the threat of weapons of mass destruction. It then moved into a phase of denial where we were told over and over: Oh, the Iraqi soldiers, the forces are just terrific; we are getting them ready to take our place there; we are going to stand down when they stand up. As violence ramped up dramatically, as more and more people died, including American soldiers, it went from deception to denial, and now we are in delusion, a delusion that somehow sending more American troops into the field of battle, putting them in the midst of a civil war that finds its roots in history 14 centuries old, that somehow placing our best and bravest soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors in this crossfire of sectarian violence, putting more of them there, as the President is likely to suggest, is going to bring this to an end sooner.

I think the President is wrong, I think the Iraq Study Group had it right, and I think sending those troops in, as General Abizaid said, gives a message to the Iraqis that is completely wrong.

Think about this for a minute. We sent the best military in the world. They deposed Saddam Hussein, took him out of power in a matter of weeks, dug him out of a hole in the ground, put him on trial which led to his execution. We then gave the Iraqis a chance to vote on their own constitution. We allowed them to form their own government. We have spent $400 billion. We have lost 3,014 lives as of this moment, and the number, sadly, continues to mount. Twenty-three thousand American soldiers have come home injured, 2,000 of them multiple amputees, soldiers who are blinded, soldiers whose lives may never be the same. We have done all this for this nation of Iraq, and now what we ask of them is simply this: Stand up and defend your own country. If you believe in your country and your future, be willing to stand and fight for it. Be willing to make the hard political decisions to bring peace and stability to your country.

That is the message we should be giving them, but instead, this administration's message is we will send in more American soldiers, maybe 10,000, 20,000, 30,000. We will escalate this conflict. We will escalate our commitment. We will build up these forces.

According to two members of the Iraq Study Group who were present when the group met with the President in November, President Bush said he continues to use the word ``victory'' to describe the vision in Iraq because ``it's a word the American people understand.'' The President said: If I start to change it, it will look like I am beginning to change my policy.

That is a staggering statement because, Mr. President, we do need a change of policy. We need to face the reality of what we are currently facing in Iraq.

There are other costs beyond what I have mentioned. There are costs that we feel at home. I voted against this Iraq war--23 of us did--but I voted for every single penny this President has asked for. My thinking on it is very basic and fundamental: If it were my son and daughter in uniform, I would want them to have everything they need--everything. I can quarrel with this President, debate him all day about the policy, but not at the expense of the safety of our troops.

The money we spent there--almost $2 billion a week, over $400 billion in total--is money that has been taken out of America, away from our needs at home, money that, sadly, has been piled up in debt as this administration refuses to even pay for the war they are waging.

We are currently spending about $8 billion a month on Iraq--$8 billion. We are going to be asked to come up with another $100 billion soon and, sadly, that money we spent so far doesn't even include the cost of reequipping our Armed Forces or caring for our veterans who have come home. That is a long-term cost of this war that we will pay for decades to come.

What could we have done in America with the $380 billion or $400 billion that we spent in Iraq? We could have paid for all of the following that I am about to list--all of the following: Health care coverage for all of the uninsured children in America for the entire duration of this war; 4-year scholarships to a public university for all of this year's graduating high school seniors in America; new affordable housing units for 500,000 needy families; all the needed port security requirements to keep our homeland safe; substantial new energy conservation programs. Or, we could have completely funded No Child Left Behind.

Remember that program where we tested our kids and found out they needed help and then the Federal Government didn't send the help? We could have done that.

Or, we could have provided savings accounts for low-income families preparing for retirement, or made a downpayment on reducing the alternative minimum tax.

From my State of Illinois, our share of the Iraq war comes to about $19 billion. With that $19 billion, we could have paid for 2.5 million Illinois children in Head Start, insured 11 million children for 1 year, paid the salaries of 330,000 teachers for a year, underwritten 170,000 new affordable housing units, and covered 900,000 4-year scholarships to public universities.

President Bush has the distinction not just for this policy in Iraq, but the fact that he is the first American President in our history who has cut taxes in the midst of a war. His tax cuts have benefited the wealthiest people in America and left the largest debt in the history of the United States, and every year we remain in Iraq we add $75 billion to $100 billion to that national debt.

Beyond the cost of human lives and dollars, there are strategic costs in this war. Our military is stretched dangerously thin. The National Guard units that have been activated have come home with less equipment. Today, in Illinois, we have about a third of the equipment we need to respond to another crisis either at home or overseas.

We also know that when it comes to combat readiness, there are no units prepared to go into war at this moment.

We have stretched our military so thin. The costs of reequipping these units and rebuilding these services are enormous and go way beyond what we have already spent in Iraq. Investing U.S. troop levels in Iraq will almost certainly prolong our involvement in that nation. It almost certainly will make President Bush's statement that it will be up to the successors to bring our forces home a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is not what the American people voted for in November. Sending these troops to Iraq will send the wrong message to Iraq. It will signal that Americans will continue to bear the burdens of this war.

This year, the British, who have been the most cooperative in helping us there, are slated to pull their troops out. At that point, it will be virtually an American struggle, with only a handful of countries remaining by our side.

General Casey, the commanding general in Baghdad, recently stated:

The longer we in the U.S. force continue to bear the main burden of Iraq's security, the longer it lengthens the time that the government of Iraq has to make the hard decisions about reconciliation and dealing with the militias.

General Casey also said:

It has always been my view that a heavy and sustained American military presence was not going to solve the problems in Iraq over the long term.

These are the generals President Bush said he listens to, and these are the people who are in command of our forces. These are voices which clearly disagree with the escalation of this war in Iraq.

Last week, America bid farewell to a good and decent man named Gerald Ford. I was honored to be at his funeral service in Grand Rapids, MI. He was a man who served at one of the most tumultuous times in American history. He inherited a war he couldn't win. Years later, when asked about that Vietnam war, President Ford said:

My approach was we inherited the problem with the job. It is my obligation on behalf of the country to try and solve the damn thing.

A generation later, our Nation faces a similar moment. We need to work together. We need to cooperate on a bipartisan basis to find a plan worthy of the courage and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. It should begin now. It shouldn't be left to future Presidents.

If one reads the authorization for Iraq, one understands that the goals and missions of that statement for the use of force have changed dramatically. No weapons of mass destruction, no Saddam Hussein, no threat to America. It is time for us to announce that we achieved our goals in Iraq and now the American people need to hand this responsibility over to the people of that nation in Iraq.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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